It’s easy to see books as just paper and ink. Sometimes I suppose that makes us a bit overly critical of them. Because tearing apart these two substances can’t really hurt can it?
I’m taking a class on controversial topics right now; it’s a required class to graduate form my college. Being forced to take a class is never fun. And reading a text that you are forced to is equally unenjoyable at times. So it is with the book we were asked to read for class, it shall remain unmentioned as I wish to avoid biasing anyone towards it.
I tried to go in with an open mind. But I’ll face up to the fact that I can be a pretty opinionated and judgmental person sometimes, especially when I set my mind to it. Being an English major also never helps when trying to go into a book with openness as the key approach.
My classmates were no help. We tore into the book in discussions. Moments in class became tense at times because of the issues that were brought up. More and more, students would point out errors, would go so far as to point out inaccuracies in math about the dates in the book. The bitterness was clear in their tones as they tossed the book onto the rubbish heap with much of the other required college reading they’d grown tired of being forced to buy and study.
I too followed in their footsteps. I wrote skeptical posts in our discussion boards. I finished the book with a superior English major attitude of somehow feeling more scholarly than the author, dismissing it because I felt the structure was poor and because other classmates around me had torn the book to shreds in their own fashions.
However, things all changed when a new speaker came to our lecture series Monday night. The author himself.
I think many of us had expected an arrogant man who’d get angry with our criticisms, who’d come in with a mindset that he knew everything and we as college students didn’t. We were surprised to meet instead a very humble calm man, who took each and every question with respect and clear humility. He admitted to not knowing everything, he broached hot button issues with clarity and a level-head. His engaging conversation with us was probably the best lecture we’d had so far in the class. And I could no longer look at the book quite the same way again.
Sometimes, readers get caught up in the fact that a book seems inhuman. We forget there was someone who took the time to craft each and every word, who worked hard to get his or her thoughts on paper. It’s easy to get lost in the pages, become overly critical of what we find there.
The reality is while we might think we have an idea of an author, sometimes it could be completely wrong. Until we’ve met someone in person, how can we really criticize them?
Authors are people too. The make mistakes. They write badly sometimes. Some might not know how best to organize a text, or maybe portray their ideas without sounding a bit superior.
I’m not saying to abandon criticism. On the contrary, as an English major it’s a necessary way of life. We should think critically. We should avoid taking things on face value. But at the same time, sometimes we need to remember there’s a person behind every book. And while we might think we know them, pages can only show so much.